Sounds like us: Culling in the name of...

VICKI ANDERSON
Last updated 23:03 13/05/2011
 

 

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OPINION: Dear New Zealand taxpayers,

Making Tracks is the name of the Nick Dwyer TV series where he takes New Zealand songs to foreign climes and gets artists to do the cover versions of them.

It's perhaps not surprising then, considering their track record, excuse the pun, that NZ On Air used Making Tracks as the title for their new funding scheme which kicks in on July 1, in their report released on Thursday.

Although, having read the 14-page report, I would be more tempted to title it Back Tracking as it does little to address the real needs of both artists and the taxpaying public who expect NZ On Air to obey its mandate, the Broadcasting Act, and focus as much on our musical culture and identity as it does on ''broadcast outcomes'' and to be prudent with our money while they do so.

Curiously, official fanfare of the sweeping changes to the music funding scheme featured unusual phrases such as that from Broadcasting Minister Jonathan Coleman who issued a press release titled 'Ready to Roll - revamp for NZ music funding' before going on to describe it as a ''sea change'' in music funding that will ''see more Kiwis sharing the funding pool which will lead to greater diversity in funded music''.

Ready to Roll? Perhaps Dr Coleman was a fan of the 70s music show hosted by Roger Gascoigne?

However, some might say that Radio With Pictures would have been a better title, considering both NZ On Air's love affair with commercial radio and the organisation's fumbling attempts to address the jolly interwebs in Making Tracks.

Unfortunately, when it was released on Thursday, the link to the report dealing with how NZ On Air would, finally, embrace the digital age, didn't work.

The phrase 'greater diversity' was peppered throughout the Making Tracks report, yet without any real explanation of what the organisation considers diversity to be or how NZ On Air would offer it.

Some good music will never ''infiltrate'' the mainstream but can still be appreciated.

Rob Mayes, from lobby group Sounds Like Us NZ Music, said that the organisation wasn't approached for input into the report.

''Sounds Like Us NZ music tried for three months to be part of the process to contribute ideas to help make a system that better serves New Zealand but we didn't get a call back until two weeks ago. We had a 90 minute chat to CEO Jane Wrightson, but with the policy being released in a week it was too late. We're annoyed about that.''

Mayes believes that the new policy was a lot like the old system, which ''favoured almost exclusively commercial players''.

''New Zealand's conundrum is we're lumbered with an organisation that doesn't understand the problem it was set up to solve. It continually tries to solve the wrong issues with an unchanging line of attack,'' Mayes said.

''NZ On Air's job is to support our unique culture, which is under expanding attack from increasing commercialisation, and inundated by vast amounts of foreign content competing for New Zealand audience attention.

''Encouraging commercial radio formatted music through funding is not addressing the crux of New Zealand's problem which is of a lack of broadcast channels that will carry its sound. New Zealand has never had a content problem, it has a delivery/platform problem.''

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Mayes said haphazardly spending money on content to please existing broadcast outlets was not the solution.

 ''It 'fixes' us, and I use 'fix' in the neutering sense of the word,'' he said.

Pop Mechanix Paul Scott, now based in Sydney, agrees.

''New Zealand has never had a content problem, it has a delivery/platform problem''.

What is also missing from the report is a discussion about how the industry works, how much is already privately funded, the need for public intervention, what they are trying to achieve and the effects of competition.

NZ On Air should be promoting all New Zealand music, not just what they fund. This is also what's wrong with the NZ Music Awards - still no metal category and, as if they are not as ''important'', the country/folk music awards and tech awards are still separate events.

THE PHONOGRAPHIC NEEDLE AND THE DAMAGE DONE

NZ On Air spends $5.5 million a year on domestic music and has previously come under fire for focusing solely on commercial music and for propping up record companies with grants of up to $50,000 to make an album.

In its report NZ On Air says it has been considering how best to adapt to the changing music and broadcasting environment since 2008. It says the report was delayed because of the Copyright Tribunal case affecting several music stakeholders and, in 2010, it commissioned Chris Caddick to review its domestic funding schemes. This included a qualitative research project involving 100 interviews of a ''wide range of music industry personnel''.

I was one of those personnel interviewed. I found Caddick to be a pleasant bloke but the situation in which I was interviewed was less than ideal.

On September 9, 2010, five days after the 7.1 earthquake struck Christchurch, Caddick flew down to interview me and, as far as I'm aware, one other Christchurch-based person.

As I was staying at my elderly mother-in-law's house in Beckenham following the earthquake, he appeared annoyed that he had to travel to see me and asked if we could instead meet in an inner city cafe.

''We just had a 7.1 earthquake five days ago, I seriously don't know what inner city cafes are currently open,'' I replied somewhat incredulously.

Eventually we met in a cafe in Beckenham but Caddick was rushed as his flight was leaving in under an hour. He asked questions from a fairly basic questionnaire and skipped entire pages and sections in order to leave to catch his flight on time.

My impression was that Caddick generally had a good overview of the situation and was pleasant to deal with, but I didn't feel as if I had been 'heard'.

NZ On Air also sought the ''views of the interested public'' with 655 people responding to an online questionnaire conducted through free American online outfit Survey Monkey.

When millions of taxpayer dollars are at stake, why was this free online American survey provider chosen, when, on that website there is no mention of research analysts, no confirmation of anonymity for participants, and no contact details provided for questions about the survey?

In contrast, a similar survey, the Creative NZ Survey, was conducted by New Zealand research analysts MartinJenkins with confirmation of anonymity and contact details of the research analyst and the CNZ strategy adviser.

Mayes wrote his own discussion paper:

NZ On Air CEO Jane Wrightson describes Caddick as an ''independent consultant'' but it  is worth noting that in 2008 NZ On Air Music Manager Brendan Smyth presented Caddick with a medal, when Caddick left major label EMI, with the citation ''Heroes of The New Zealand Music Revolution'' inscribed with ''NZ On Air Salutes Chris Caddick''.

In his tenure as the managing director of EMI Music New Zealand he had several well-known NZ On Air funded artists on his roster and, according to the NZ On Air Kiwi Hits website, these artists received well in excess of $500,000 during his reign.

In February Caddick was appointed as the new managing director of the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand (RIANZ).

The 158-page Caddick report - Review of NZ On Air's Domestic Music Promotion and Funding Schemes - was released on December 22, 2010, just before Christmas. NZ On Air paid him $75,000 for the report - almost $475 a page.

Labour's Broadcasting spokesperson at the time, Brendon Burns, described it on the Red Alert blog: ''In Christmas week, NZ On Air released, some will say dumped, a long-awaited report reviewing its approach to funding and encouraging local music.''

In December, Wrightson welcomed the findings and said ''we need to make significant policy changes''.

Caddick's report proposed that album funding be abolished and the organisation should focus on singles and videos.

 It also stated: ''NZ On Air's perceived relaxed approach could potentially lead to misuse and wastage of funds.''

It suggested NZ On Air's policy of using radio programmers to determine which songs are funded will be scrapped, and, instead a ''wider range of music experts'' should be used to help select funded projects.

Key findings included:

- Alongside commercial radio activities, greater use of student radio, online and digital platforms.

- Album funding should be abolished.

- Weighting funding more towards emerging artists.

- Using a wider range of music experts to help select funded projects.

- Placing support for music from established artists on a more business-like footing.

- Providing a maximum of three grants per artist a year.

- Focusing funding on tracks, including music videos.

- Funding criteria will be tightened.

''Our prime focus will remain on connecting songs with the widest possible audience. Kiwi audiences provide the funding, so they should benefit,'' Wrightson said.

As you can see below, Making Tracks largely addresses these concerns but the big white elephant in the room is evident to Mayes.

''Encouraging commercial radio formatted music through funding is not addressing New Zealand's problem of a lack of broadcast channels that will carry its sound. New Zealand has never had a content problem, it has a delivery/platform problem.

''New Zealand's conundrum is we're lumbered with an organisation that doesn't understand the problem it was set up to solve. It continually tries to solve the wrong issues with an unchanging line of attack. They think that the solution is to create as much commercial styled product as possible and ignore the stuff that couldn't get a look in before. That 'solution' changes New Zealand culture, and does nothing to change broadcasters, which was always the problem that needed addressing. The Making Tracks policy, while stating it is full of difference reads a lot like the old system which favoured almost exclusively commercial players.''

MAKING TRACKS - THE CHANGES

Main points:

60% of funding will go to commercial radio and 40% will be dedicated to ''infiltrating'' alternative radio.

Album grants of up to $50,000 have been abolished. The track-based scheme allows successful artists to get funding for at most three singles/videos funded a year, and only one per monthly funding round.

The Making Tracks scheme will put $2 million towards 200 music videos annually as a package and fund the recording of 250 single tracks this year and at least 200 tracks in the next year.

Artists can receive up to three grants a year worth up to $10,000 each, with up to $4000 to record the song and $6000 to make a music video.

Video funding rises from $5000 per video to $6000 but applicants must contribute at least $2000 to their own project, making a minimum video budget of $8000. The $2000 will need to be paid to NZ On Air before the other funds can be accessed and NZ On Air will subsequently manage the drawing down of the full amounts, based on invoices supplied.

Recording and video budgets will be required before funding contracts are issued and eligible recording costs have been made.

Songs will need to be submitted as mp3 files only and implicitly as demos rather than finished songs. Or, as Making Tracks puts it: ''the song must be unfinished. Why? Because NZ On Air funding is to help create works of professional quality. We do not provide funding retrospectively''.

Some would argue that quality can still be funded retrospectively. It wouldn't be a bad way of funding. Get people to make the recording first and then reward them if it is any good. I would imagine that most people would submit near completed demos. This criteria will be difficult for many, who record songs in three or four track blocks using professional studios and engineers because it is more economical.

The funding process has been sped up with 10 funding rounds a year, excluding December and January. However, acts can only submit one song per round. This means applications will need to be made strategically, and well in advance of EP or album release schedules.

Eligibility criteria have been narrowed and the online only application system will filter out those who don't meet these requirements.

The selection panel will now include at least three independents, drawn from a ''rotating pool of music experts around the country'', along with at least three broadcasters - one each from commercial radio, alternative radio and music television.

The recording portion of the funding will be repayable in full if all revenue from any exploitation of the copyright in the sound recording  all local and international sales and synch income  exceeds $50,000 gross within the first 24 months of release of the song.

FUNDING CRITERIA

Making Tracks states: We are looking for good songs that have the potential to connect with a sizeable audience on broadcast and digital platforms  radio, music television, online. And we are looking to partner with artists who are committed and motivated, have got a good story and have built themselves a critical and audience buzz.

To be eligible to apply for Making Tracks funding, the artist must be able to answer YES to at least 10 of a list of 20+ criteria and provide evidence. Some of the criteria [*] are mandatory.

ARTISTIC

- We have a great song [* This has a special weighting]

BUSINESS

- We have a record deal

- We have a publishing deal

- We have a management deal

- We have a distribution arrangement in place [*]

- We have $2000 to contribute to the music video [*]

TRACK RECORD

- We have charted a song on a RadioScope airplay chart

- We have charted in a radio station listener-voted poll

- We have sold 500+ singles or 250+ albums or EPs

- We have a 4-star plus review in a reputable print or web music journal

- We have won a music award

- We have completed a national tour

- We have scored a significant international support slot

- We have played a major New Zealand festival

- We have had international success

- We have synched a song

AUDIENCE / FANBASE

- We have had 100+ paying public to a single show

- We have more than 1000 online (Facebook or MySpace, etc) fans

- We have more than 500 Twitter followers

- We have had more than 2000 plays on YouTube

- We have featured or charted on hypemachine (or similar)

Reading this made me laugh almost as hard as I did in April when, while discussing The Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Bill, MP Jonathan Young, aka The Filesharing Terminator, used the phrase: ''skynet''.

Is it just me who feels alarmed that the people in charge seem so unsure of the terminology and the concepts being discussed?

Most people, however brief their dealings with ''skynet'' are, must be aware that MySpace is no longer the online force it was even, say, two years ago. And the criteria to have over 1000 Facebook fans is just silly.

There's a page about a feijoa on Facebook that has 1500 fans. Perhaps it should submit an application for funding.

And just what is a web music journal? Am I to assume they mean blog?

And when they talk about ''alternative platforms like YouTube'', what they should say is ''where you've all been uploading your music yourselves quite happily for some years now''.

Have a look at the graphs accompanying this article, they show how outdated and out-of-touch NZ On Air is.

The graph titled Where do people find music? was included by NZ On Air as part of its Annual Report for 2010.

According to the Public Perceptions Survey, 2010, 73% of people get their daily music fix from radio stations.

In its annual report NZ On Air said: ''Commercial radio is the hardest nut to crack. However, in terms of exposure, and audience reach, it is a nut worth cracking. This is because radio is still the way that most people find out about new music and get their daily music fix.''

If this survey is to be believed, then this makes New Zealanders vastly at odds with the rest of the world.

In September 2010 Nielsen conducted a survey of 26,644 music consumers in 53 markets across the globe. The broad set of questions covered music purchasing and listening habits.

Who do you believe is more accurately representing the true state of play?

REACTION

Many musicians contacted for this story appeared indifferent to any NZ On Air funding changes.

A typical response being: ''They always fund the same people, it's heavily biased towards the North Island. I don't even bother to keep up with what they're doing any more. I have better things to do, like make and release my albums myself''.

Christchurch-based Bruce Russell of The Dead C, who have headlined an All Tomorrow's Parties festival curated by Sonic Youth, was nonplussed.

''It's not a subject that interests me greatly but I have no problem with talking about it. My reaction was one of irritated resignation, to be honest. 'Of course you did' I thought, 'you would, wouldn't you'. But I don't see it helping anything much.''

Paul Kean of Christchurch-based group The Bats said he was hopeful the funding would be allocated more widely than it has been previously.

''It would be good to see the funds spread a bit wider, I guess time will tell. It would be good to see more recognition of South Island acts.''

Others, like Jimmy Xmas of Auckland-based independent act Luger Boa were saddened by the loss of respect for the album as a complete artwork in favour of the ''sexy'' single.

''People might hear the single You're On My Mind and think that is what defines Luger Boa, when it's just a small part of it. The album offers a more complete picture of the beast.''

Q&A WITH NZ ON AIR CEO JANE WRIGHTSON

1. How will NZ On Air achieve ''greater diversity'' with the new scheme?

''Making Tracks offers a greater number of grants to a wider range of musicians.  Pretty much 100% of funded music was targeted at commercial radio stations but that is now changing to about a 60% commercial and 40% alternative mix.''

2. The report states that funding is intended as support for early-mid career musicians, does Making Tracks mean our industry veterans, such as Jordan Luck, Dave Dobbyn, Anika Moa etc are now excluded from applying?

''No. Each song will be considered on a case by case basis but with the large number of grants now on offer we expect a lot of them will go to early to mid-career musicians.''

3. In the report, NZ On Air states: ''Our aim is to ensure an adequate supply of quality NZ music for the airwaves and to increase variety for audiences.'' According to the Broadcasting Act, NZOA's role is to reflect New Zealand culture and identity. Is NZOA there to service the broadcasting industry by constructing music through funding which fits the format or is it there to service the creative industry by seeking to encourage broadcasting outlets to play local content?

''NZ On Air aims to serve diverse audiences.  The Broadcasting Act asks us to help promote New Zealand music on radio.''

4. How much money does it cost to operate the kiwihits.co.nz website for a year?

''We allocate $10,000 to run this site for a year.''

5. How much money did you contribute to run the mixtape.co.nz website for a year?

''We have contributed $332,000 for a project which will be launched on the site soon.''

6. How much does it cost to run the NZ On Screen website?

''This year we allocated $997,380 to the initiative.''

7. For the new positions at NZ On Air, advertised for in April, have you received many applications? Are you close to appointing anyone? Does this mean there will now be a team of five full-time staff?

''We have received more than a hundred applications and will be conducting interviews shortly.  We expect to have four full-time staff and an additional staff member contracted for a year.''

8. Can you please provide NZ On Air's definition of the terms ''mainstream'' and ''alternative''?

''It's a loose definition. We are referring to mainstream as music which is played on commercial radio stations and alternative means not generally played on commercial radio stations but still enjoying a reasonable audience.''

9. Under the criteria section for funding eligibility, it states that artists should ''have got a good story''. What does this mean?

''It means that the artists have made good music that is attracting an audience.''

10. Artistic criteria for funding eligibility states that: ''We have a great song'' has ''special weighting''. What makes a song a ''great song'' to NZOA?

''We think a great song is one which can draw a devoted audience of a reasonable size.''

11. What alternative and online platforms are you targeting?

''We'll be targeting student radio and the new digital strategist will be charged with developing a coherent strategy for digital platforms - particularly identifying where public funding is clearly needed.''

To hear an interview between James Meharry, NZ chairperson of student radio and co-owner and station manager of Christchurch studio radio station RDU, Mayes and Wrightson go to http://www.mediafire.com/?7rqdqsfl1m3n2g8

12. Does ''funding diversity'' include funding for genres such as jazz, folk, classical and metal?

''Perhaps  - each song will be considered on a case by case basis.''

13. With Making Tracks' objective to find ''great songs'', does this exclude music which is not sung?

''Each song will be considered on a case by case basis.''

14. Must all music be sung to be eligible for funding?

''No, not necessarily.''

15. Could you please explain why NZ On Air think there is not already an adequate supply of ''quality NZ music''?

''We have no shortage of demand for our funds - in fact we are heavily oversubscribed.'' (That wasn't the question!)

16. What do you hope to achieve by spending $2.5M on ''quality NZ music''?

''We want to achieve a greater diversity of music available for wider audiences.''

Ah, of course, diversity.

Some may say it is a shame that NZ On Air did not embrace this new found lust for diversity when releasing its promotional CD, the Kiwi Hit Disc 137, this month, coincidentally New Zealand Music Month.

The Hit Disc is the one opportunity so-called ''alternative'' artists have an opportunity for promotion from this organisation.

Instead, artists featured include established Kiwi band The Feelers alongside Stan Walker and Kimbra - both New Zealand singer/songwriters who are based in Australia and who are not lacking in publicity.

Mayes says he has been battling for 10 years to get NZ On Air to understand the subtleties of the Broadcasting Act and was relieved when the organisation announced it was going to redefine the system.

However, having read Making Tracks, Mayes says he now simply feels frustrated.

''The biggest frustration for me has been in understanding the difficulties of local musicians to get their music heard by New Zealanders, then learning there's an organisation called NZ On Air who say they can't help artists that don't fit the narrow overseas leanings of commercial radio, and then reading the Broadcasting Act and finding it contradicts what NZ On Air say they're supposed to be doing. After 10 years of me pointing this out, finally they say they're going to redefine the whole system and listen to what New Zealanders need.

''You'd hope we could finally rest but it seems the battle for sanity isn't over with this new policy potentially very like the old one and the new openness and listening not flowing freely. This looks like business as usual and that's not what hard done by New Zealand music needs.''

BACKGROUND: MIXING IT UP

Further background is important here if you're new to the NZ On Air story.

In June 2010, NZ On Air chose to celebrate its 21st anniversary with a $50,869 party at the taxpayer's expense. Coleman attended alongside 299 other members of the music industry.

Wrightson told me: ''We are acutely aware of the economic environment and made careful decisions on expenditure. We limited catering to $40 per head; we chose a venue that could give us a good discount; we secured alcohol sponsorship so our funds weren't used for that; we arranged the scheduled board meeting around the function to save staff and board travel costs; and Shihad, bless them, performed only for a small koha.

''The main costs were for a decent sound desk and system (Shihad was performing unplugged for the very first time, so sound quality was really important), lighting, and various venue logistics.''

In a radio interview between myself, Wrightson, and Mayes on Radio NZ in February this year (http://www.mediafire.com/?5lnq55nivyvq151), Wrightson made it perfectly clear she didn't actually know what a ''sound desk'' was and why it should cost so much for a (cough) ''unplugged'' performance.

NZ ON AIR'S 21ST PARTY

Costs broke down like this, to total $50,869:

Food:   $9300 (just under $40 per head)

Wine, spirits, juice and mineral water:  $0

Food equipment hire:   $2913

Venue costs (hireage, security, sundries): $7,439

Artists fees (five people), flights and accommodation:   $7053

Sound, A/V, lighting: equipment hire:  $13,344

Project coordinator, MC koha, casual waiting personnel:  $8681

Sundries (gas heaters etc):  $2139

Wrightson told me at the time: ''The funds came from income for albums and unused funding returned to us.''

Sweet dreams, taxpayers of New Zealand.

- Sounds Like Us Part 3 follows on from my previous articles Sounds Like Us, published in The Press in May 2008 and Sounds Like Us Part 2 published in The Press and online in May 2010.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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